The legacy of colonialism, and the explicit uses of its discourse, presumptions, prejudices and intellectual hierarchies, remains a subject too difficult for most West writers to cope with. The New York Review of Book’s David Rieff demonstrates this discomfort in this otherwise decent review of William Easterly’s new work The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor.
His troubles begin not when discussing the genocidal violence, post-Enlightenment racist bigotry and outright capitalist exploitation that underpinned what we now call European colonialism, but its transitional legacies and influences. Rieff is unable to see that colonial governments consistently used a discourse of ‘development’ and ‘humanitarianism’ in their last gasp efforts to hold on to their colonies. It is this discourse that was later adopted by humanitarian NGOs and even human rights workers who continued to operate in the ‘blighted’ world, and did so as hand-maidens of the new imperialism of the US and the desperate political machinations of the dying colonialists. Vijay Prashad’s work ‘The Darker Nations’ touches on this issue, and it has repeatedly been the focus on writings by Said, the Abu-Lughods, Fanon, Cesaire, and so many others that an entire bibliography would be required.
In fact, Rieff’s blind spots are on display when he has the temerity to use Ethiopia as an example of a development success story. This is the very nation that since becoming a ‘development’ poster child has collapsed into a violent, brutal, ethnicised dictatorship, a partner in America’s violent wars in Somalia (the American-backed / encouraged / coordinated Ethiopian invasion of Somalia is what led to the rise of al-Shabaab who were later labelled as ‘terrorists’ because of their resistance to this invasion). It is ridiculous, if not immoral, to quote Bill and Melinda Gates – two people who are the smiling face of a venal neoliberalism and deeply responsible for infecting so much of government policy that should be aimed at serving the communities but instead is aimed at profits, corporate investments in public services and nonsensical rate-of-return humanism programs.
The situation in Ethiopia has deteriorated to such a degree that it led Helen Epstein, to remind us that (see:http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/
…Ethiopia, an essentially one-party state of roughly 90 million people, in which virtually all human rights activity and independent media is banned.
Hardly a development success story we would want to shout out about. There has yet to be a powerful work on the complexities of the post-colonial era. Too little is said about the continuities and continuing legacies of an enterprise that lasted hundreds of years, developed sophisticated administrative and social institutions, oversaw the devastation of hundreds of millions of lives, and sapped the entire social, economic and human agency of 95% of the globe and its people. To imagine that somehow these effects and their aftermath simply disappeared the day European soldiers left the land – as if the only types of relationships colonialism was built on were military and governmental, and also not social, economic, psychological, cultural, political, and person, is to remain very naive and clueless indeed.